When the January edition of yourChesham carried the first news of an initial idea Chesham Renaissance had for Star Yard, the four directors of that company were not surprised by some initial, unfavourable, reaction. What was being suggested was a dramatic solution to the regeneration of our town centre. Since then, and the publication of the questionnaire on our website (www.cheshammasterplan.org) the reaction has become more favourable. Not yet majority support but moving to a 40:60 split. (See the chart.)
We still think our idea is the best one put forward, so far. But it is the ONLY idea put forward so far. (The Chesham Society, which spawned Chesham Renaissance first got involved in 2014.) That delay is, perhaps, surprising and shocking and suggests that, when it comes to regenerating the town and the town centre in particular, local government has failed to respond to the needs of the town.
While the Star Yard suggestion may split the town there is very little opposition to the idea that the town centre is in urgent need of regeneration. But Chiltern District Council, in its dying days, failed to present a solution. Chesham Town Council, slow to begin the process of developing a Neighbourhood Plan, is now publishing an initial questionnaire to seek your views, which suggests no agreed Plan for another two years. Buckinghamshire Council, still in its early days, has yet to come forward with any proposal and will not do so for a while yet.
The question we must ask is why is it that a small number of individuals, with very limited resources, can produce significant proposals but our councillors with all the resources provided by council tax payers and a legion of officers have yet to suggest a single idea. Consider that: no solution to a problem staring us in the face for the last 10 years.
Buckinghamshire Council has responded more positively than Chesham Town and the now defunct Chiltern District councils. There was the formation of a Chesham Regeneration Group, consisting of themselves, Chesham Town Council, Chesham Renaissance and others. It met last November, since when nothing has happened. It is becoming more and more urgent for that Regeneration Group to meet and start the process of producing a regeneration scheme.
So, could this be the time to begin a turnaround? The directors of Chesham Renaissance consider that if they and the Town Council can present a unified position to Buckinghamshire Council, then this could be the way to start the process. A single and very loud Chesham voice would be a very positive step forward. Perhaps a set of agreed objectives, based upon revitalising the town centre; providing more homes; attracting more businesses and jobs to the town; and improving our environment. Essentially, what is required is a plan to attract more public and private investment in the town. A recent meeting with the Town Council suggested they might welcome this more collaborative approach and also agreed Star Yard as a priority site for development.
In the meantime, plans continue to progress for Aylesbury and Wycombe; and there has been significant investment in Amersham (including a £36 million lifestyle centre). We have a lot of catching up to do. The Buckinghamshire Council regeneration budget for the next four years is £30.4 million, the allocation to Chesham is zero, while Amersham gets another £1 million.
Chesham Renaissance consider that whatever the solution, it has to be dramatic. Cosmetic changes will not suffice. It is also our view that getting started on Star Yard is the right location for beginning to make Chesham a better place in which to live and work – the objective of the much-praised Chesham Masterplan. Let’s get started now: why delay?
We know there is a need to improve parking; we know there is a need for further investment, to make the High Street more attractive; we know there is a need to improve traffic management. What is more controversial is the suggestion that more people should live in the town centre. That will be an attractive proposition to many, bringing shops, train and busses within walking distance to them. Chesham Renaissance has consistently argued that there must be much easier access into Lowndes Park from the High Street and support for a night time economy, based at the Market Square end of the High Street. For at least 14 hours a day the town centre is empty. There has to be a better way of making use of the huge private and public investment put into our shops and into the heart of the town.
If Buckinghamshire Council can’t afford to invest in Chesham, then we should start looking for outside corporate investors.
Andy Garnett, Director, Chesham Renaissance